Tesla is (apparently? partially?) vindicated after a CNN test-drive of the Model S

As the world watched the accusations fly back and forth between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the New York Times over the paper’s controversial review of the Model S, CNN decided to jump into the brawl with both feet.

Peter Valdes-Dapena, who writes about the automotive industry for the cable news giant, took the all-electric sedan on a test drive, following the same itinerary as Times reporter John Broder took before sharply criticizing the vehicle for failing to live up to its promised mileage range.

Heading out on Thursday, Valdes-Dapena wasn’t sure what to expect, and admitted to feeling somewhat apprehensive about getting stuck somewhere with a failed battery, as Broder claims happened to him.


   “On Thursday, I took the same drive — and I made it to Boston, though not without some anxiety that I would run out of juice. The key issue is not the car itself, but the location of charging stations, since the Tesla (TSLA) battery pack is good for only 270 miles.’’

Valdes-Dapena ended up making it all the way to Boson as he’d intended, without breaking down. But as he first headed out, he said:


   “The most scary part of the trip: the 200 miles between charging stations in Newark, Del., and Milford, Conn. That’s not a lot of cushion, especially after I missed an exit adding a few miles to that leg.’’


The reporter followed carefully Tesla’s instructions, which Broder may or may not have done. He said he did what was suggested in terms of milking the most mileage out of a charge to the Model S. Also, he said, “I kept the cruise control pegged to between 60 and 65 much of the way, and kept the climate control at 72 degrees. I minimized stops. ‘’


He said that he enjoyed the ride, loved the car, and that none of his fears panned out.

     “I had expected to feel ridiculous all the way from Newark to Milford, with one eye on the rearview mirror watching fast-approaching cars. But I didn’t. Instead, I found myself maneuvering around slower cars.’’

And perhaps as a way to prevent any fibbing accusations by Tesla in the event the car failed to do what it was supposed to do, Valdes-Dapena had photo journalist Jeremy Harlan and producer Abby Bassett Heffernan follow along in a separate car.

 It was, he said, pretty much smooth sailing all the way, a review that creates even more of a public relations challenge for the Times, which was still smarting from Musk’s days-long public attack on the paper’s credibility.


   “But as I drove into Connecticut, I realized something amazing. Not only did I have enough battery range left, I had plenty. I had at least 40 miles — more than an entire Chevy Volt’s worth of electricity — left to play with. I sped up, cruising over 70, riding in the left lane, mashing the gas pedal just to feel how fast the car could shoot from 65 to 80. I was practically giddy.”

And while CNN’s ride was a bit different than Broder’s, with weather and timing differences that could have impacted the battery’s performance, Valdes-Dapena came away impressed with the Model S.


Which must have been music to Elon Musk’s ears.



   In closing, the CNN writer gave Tesla one big fat Valentine’s Day card.


   “The Model S provides a pretty amazing mix of smooth and silent performance along with brain-squishing acceleration. So even if you’re not driving from Washington to Boston, it’s an impressive car, all on its own.’’

Patrick May Patrick May (340 Posts)

With more than 30 years on the front line of daily American journalism, I'm currently a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News, covering Apple and writing people-centric business stories from Silicon Valley.